We applaud the Kennett High School principal for not allowing the Confederate battle flag to be displayed, and while we’re tempted to give a nod to the boys for standing behind something they believe in, we doubt their motives.
At its core, this is a First Amendment issue.
As a newspaper, we wrestle with such issues regularly, and we offer the boys our standards to think about.
When deciding to print a story that can make someone look bad, we say to ourselves, “We have the right to publish it, but is it the right thing to do?”
Two examples illustrate this point: court news and divorce proceeding, both public information.
Many, many people over the years have asked us not to publish their names in the court news because it would damage their reputation. With rare exceptions (and only if a court judgment is a mistake) have we acquiesced.
The reason: We believe informing people about what the police are up to, and alerting them about criminal activity, serves the public and outweighs any effects it may have on the reputation of an individual who ends up in court.
Conversely, we choose not to publish the names of people who get divorced. We don’t see any public good coming from printing divorce proceedings, and if there is any, we don’t think it important enough to infringe on someone’s private life.
It’s easy for reporters to write about someone from behind the safety of a keyboard. It’s quite another thing to look that person in the eye.
So another standard we use is to ask ourselves whether we feel strongly enough about the story that we would defend it face-to-face to the person we are writing about.
The students have a First Amendment right to fly the battle flag, and while it is unlikely that they have direct lineage to the Confederacy, it is true there are descendants of Confederate soldiers who legitimately believe it represents honor and Southern heritage.
But to the vast majority of people today, the flag represents a system of government that was based on slavery, and is a symbol of oppression and hatred.
The teens should ask themselves if the satisfaction they receive from parading the flags around outweighs the discomfort and outrage it causes to others.
Flying the Confederate flag in a grocery store parking lot in a lily-white community like Conway is safe. We wonder how their resolve would hold up if Conway had a sizable black community who might confront them; or if they would have the courage to convoy their pickups with flags unfurled through the streets of an ethnically mixed city like Boston.
There are many countries that ban symbols of oppression. France, for instance, explicitly bans the swastika, which a thousand years ago meant “good fortune” but was infamously corrupted by the Nazis in World War II.
We are lucky to live in a country with a very, very powerful First Amendment. But with freedom comes responsibility to use good judgment, and we encourage the Kennett kids to use some.
- Category: Editorials